By Russell McGilton
Say ‘Cheese!’ Great. Thank you for that. It’s just to remind me who has visited. We’ve had mix-ups before, especially when someone has the same name. Very embarrassing! This way, please.
As you can see this is the kitchen. Yes, you’re right. Very colourful. I thought about getting the landlord to update it, but I really have fallen in love with the mission brown brickwork and the orange formica cupboards. Sure, the aqua dolphin-patterned lino has seen better days, but I’ve done my best gaffer-taping over those bits that have been crumbling away at the edges.
Is it asbestos? Of course, it’s asbestos! Everything in this house is: asbestos walls, asbestos ceiling, asbestos floors, asbestos in the…asbestos. Everything! Ah, yes. The halcyon days of Melbourne building may be behind us, but in a way, they’re with us forever, wouldn’t you say? Oh, don’t you worry none. I’ve been living here since 1989 and my lung is working fine.
Tea? Coffee? I’m afraid I’ve only got instant. Will that do?
In any case, it’s only when you disturb asbestos does it become a problem. Bit like Astrid, who you will meet, well, if you’re the lucky one who gets the room of course. When you meet her, if you do meet her, be sure not to say hello to her. She does not like people. Unlike me who loooves people, as you’ve no doubt picked up on. Astrid does not like people and this is particularly apparent first thing in the morning. You will hear her door creak open, then her soft, but very heavy footsteps carpet bomb the stairs, then the loud bang of the back door being inconsiderately being flung into the wall as she makes her way to the outside toilet, scuffing her slippers on the concrete before coming back and making a storm in the kitchen as she juices every last vegetable in the house to make her liver cleansing tonic. She leaves this garden of destruction all over the kitchen table and floor and then hoists herself back to her room to masturbate furiously over IKEA catalogues, yodelling away like Julie Andrews slipping backwards off Mont Blanc, giving it more sound than music. Astrid’s favourite piece is The Stågll, which is Swedish for ‘arm stool’.
No, no. You misunderstand me. I’m not against masturbation. It is a wonderful and very healthy, healthy, healthy thing. I do it at least twice in the morning (somewhat disingenuously, I might add) just to get my heart started.
Yes, yes, I’m joking. Hah hah! You’ll find I’m quite quick with a joke. They don’t call me ‘Gagging Gary’ for nothing. Anyway, best not to mention that you can hear Astrid going at it hammer and tongs as the habit does at least moderate her moods. If you do say something she may even do it louder; or for some petty revenge like taking the last of her almond milk; or for leaving the toilet holder empty; or not putting the spoons in the cutlery drawer the right way; or like selling her laptop because she’d left the hall light on again despite constant reminders.
She’s moving out next week.
Down the hall and directly under Astrid’s room…is Goran’s room. As you can see he’s not big on décor – just a dooner and a futon. Its starkness is emphasised only by his insistence on having a naked light bulb. Bit like a prison really.
Goran is an insomniac and he is up late most nights, pacing his room like a caged Balkan bear, swigging back some horrid Polish vodka while singing Serbian love songs, many of which involve family blood feuds and imagined old border disputes with Bosnian and Croatians. He always ends up arguing with his father, who’s been dead for some years, and then falls asleep – snoring away like a Chernobyl drain, a precipice of half-eaten börek threatening to fall with each laborious inhalation.
Now, in the ad I did say no tattoos (you might remember the line ‘No body adornments’), but when, or if, you meet Goran you will see that he walks around the house brazenly showing them off. Admittedly these are in the middle of his forehead – a Serbian coat of arms and a love heart. I’ve tried leaving hats on the kitchen table, beanies on his bed and even a burqa as a bit of a hint. But no. Sometimes I think he’s trying to test me.
I see you don’t have any tattoos. This is good. That puts you further up my list.
Goran, it must be said, has an unhealthy fixation with Astrid (the tattoo of her name in said love heart in the middle of his head does seem to give this away). Ever since he heard, what he calls, ‘the siren of love’ from her room he has been smitten. To prove his love for her, he once grabbed the bread knife and cut his hand and let the blood drip on to her pillowcase. She screamed at him to stop, but he said that to feel love one must also feel the extreme joy of pain. Those Serbs! Soooo romantic. Astrid demanded that I throw him out, but as he pays the rent and bills on time (unlike Astrid), I told her my hands were tied. Actually, sometimes they are. Goran has a nasty ice addiction. But don’t tell anyone. He’ll kill you if you do. Hah hah! No. I’m serious. He’ll kill you.
Okay, up the stairs we go.
Ah, the hallway. As the carpet is a bit worn out in the middle (well, threadbare) would you mind walking with your legs wide apart just so as to even out the wear?
No, no. I’m not joking. Honest. Look, like this. See?
I know I look like a drunk tripod but I reckon I’ve extended the life of the carpet by at least ten years, not to mention keeping our rent down. Just imagine all those dyes and bleaches not entering our oceans because of our small actions. Well, small steps in this case. You are environmentally conscious, aren’t you? I did put that in the ad.
That’s it! Even though you didn’t completely walk on the outer edges, you get another tick.
This brings us to…the bathroom and laundry, which is just here on your left. Now, we have a three-minute shower rule. Well, actually, the landlord does. If you don’t shower within the prescribed minute, the cold water snaps off and you’ll be scolded with a sudden burst of boiling hot water. I’ve only been caught out once and have never forgotten it since; especially after the cornea regraft. Best to use the waterproof timer on the tile there, and just to be safe, keep your eyes closed. Not only does this allow us to use the washing machine when we need to, but you also won’t have to worry about who in the house has seen you naked. I mean, I did put that in the ad rather clearly: ‘Must be open-minded’. Astrid is no fan of this novel way of living, but no surprises there. She just doesn’t appreciate that I’m always thinking about her and my guests. I mean, my fellow tenants, er, housemates.
Just across the way here, and past Astrid’s bolted door is my room, the largest room in the house. No, no. That’s not wallpaper. They’re photographs. My photographs to be precise. Good, aren’t they? Each Polaroid is of every person who has ever come here to see the room. Quite a lot, I know. Covers every bit of wall space. Yes, I agree. It is amazing how the fashions have changed. Big hair, big shoulder pads to short hair for women, man buns for men, jewellery crawling to the face. Unlike yourself. Hah! Another tick for you!
On this wall, you can see Astrid. Not a happy picture. Wasn’t really up for having her photograph taken, surprise, surprise. On the ceiling is Goran. Unnerving, how his eyes follow you around the room, isn’t it? If you look closely you’ll see each photograph has a brief description: the person’s name, when they visited, their age, profession, likes, dislikes, etc. The ticks next to them are my rating system: the higher the number of ticks, the higher the chances of me accepting them. Yes, they all seem to have a lot of ticks. Ah…Why are they also crossed out? Well –
Look! Here’s ‘The Room’. Beautiful, isn’t it? Wide, spacious, good light, freshly painted with broad pleasant windows. It also has a split system air-conditioning, TV, and to the back there, a private jacuzzi. Did it all myself. But don’t tell the landlord.
Ah, what’s that? Yes, it is ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ I can see you like it very much.
But guess what?
You can not have this room.
No one can have this room.
Why? Because this room is to remind people of the things they cannot have. ‘Life offers you things and then takes them away’. That’s right. This too was in the ad – ‘Quaint double storey brick veneer house with exceptional surprises.’ Yes, and what a surprise! Hah, hah, hah! You think I’m joking? Well, let me tell you something. I’ve tried sooooo hard to be welcoming. I’ve tried soooo hard to be accommodating. I’ve tried soooo hard just to be a nice person. I’ve tried and tried and tried, but what do I get? Rejection, rejection, rejection! Time after time after time. But, hah hah! The hoof is on the other foot now, isn’t it? I get to decide who lives here. I get to say no. I get to not return people’s calls. Yeah. Look who’s laughing now, huh? Look who’s laughing nooowwwww?!! HahaHAHAHAH!
But don’t worry. All is not lost. I have a space just for you.
No, I’m not kidding. Yes. Right over there…in the corner of my bedroom wall.